Access to information, escape from China, revival of broadcast and resilient media voices

Asia & Pacific Special Issue: Mong Palatino brings an access to information focus to his latest regional brief, based on IFEX member reports and news from the region.

7 min readOct 2, 2023
Nepalese women hold signs that refer to the importance of the right to information, during an event by Freedom Forum, commemorating the International Day for Universal Access to Information, in Kathmandu, Nepal, 28 September 2023. Facebook/Freedom Forum Nepal

Across Asia, groups are stepping up their campaigns for access to information amid disturbing enactment of repressive cyber laws. There are several encouraging updates such as an acquittal of Filipino-American journalist Maria Ressa, the revival of banned Cambodian media outlet VOD, and the release of detained journalists in Pakistan, Vietnam and China.

Promoting access to information

IFEX members across Asia-Pacific celebrated the International Day for Universal Access to Information by releasing statements, organizing assemblies and trainings, and partnering with various institutions and stakeholders that seek to rally greater public awareness and support for the people’s right to information (RTI).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) supported the work of Circle 19, an independent global group supporting the right to information in China. The group’s name refers to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as China’s “May Fourth movement” in 1919, which advocated for progressive reforms, including freedom of information. They believe that “the right to information is a central element of Chinese culture and that its implementation has been, and remains to this day, a constant demand of the Chinese people.”

The Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC) identified at least 13 directives issued by the Taliban over the past two years, which have severely restricted the work of media in Afghanistan. These directives range from banning the employment of women in the media sector, outlawing news coverage of protests, and censoring the broadcast of international news programs. Because of the dire situation, AFJC has implemented several programs aimed at promoting access to information while evading the repressive rules of the Taliban. AFJC shared their experience in an interview with Global Voices.

“We provide regular training on digital security and encryption techniques to help journalists protect their online communications. Additionally, we provide consultation support for journalists who are arbitrarily detained or face charges and to their family on how to deal with such a situation.”

In Malaysia, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) welcomed the announcement of the prime minister’s office endorsing the enactment of a freedom of information law and the amendment of the Official Secrets Act, which it described as “a positive move towards creating an enabling and robust information ecosystem.”

CIJ said it will work with the Legal Affairs Division under the prime minister’s office “in guaranteeing a progressive and substantive new legislation” that will “promote a culture of transparency, openness and contribute to enhancing the public’s trust in the governance process.”

CIJ urged authorities to uphold the principle of making access to information the rule, and secrecy and non-disclosures the exception, as it called for the establishment of an independent oversight body with an adequate budget to support its mandate of advancing the right to information.

In Nepal, Freedom Forum reported that it has partnered with the National Information Commission as part of its RTI campaign. The collaboration will involve legal assistance to RTI activists, the setting up of an RTI help desk, advocacy for regulation to protect rights of whistleblowers, media training on effective use of RTI tools, publication of researches and reports on RTI, and sponsorship of a national conference on RTI.

In Cambodia, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) focused on organizing activities and trainings to underscore the role of access to information in empowering community voices. CCIM released nine short films on social media, which it compiled through a competition guided by the theme of promoting the right to information.

One of the videos featured villagers talking about accessing relevant information on a delayed government project. Another video is about a student who articulates the importance of access to information while explaining the threats posed by disinformation.

For its part, CCHR invited residents from Preah Vihear province to participate in a training on how to uphold and promote the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and advocacy in their respective communities.

Good news

Court victory. In the Philippines, Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and her news company Rappler scored another legal victory after a local court acquitted them of tax evasion charges. Ressa and Rappler were previously acquitted in four other tax-related charges filed by the former administration of Rodrigo Duterte.

The Hold the Line Coalition, of which IFEX is a member, welcomed the ruling and called for the withdrawal of the remaining charges. “As an immediate next step, we call on the government to abandon all remaining cases against Rappler and Ressa, and in doing so, put a long-overdue end to their persecution.”

Ressa and a Rappler researcher have a pending appeal in the Supreme Court following their conviction in a cyber libel case. IFEX member Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility described the various charges as “an example of how laws can be weaponized to silence journalists and media organizations, and to suppress the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech and of the press.”

Revival of broadcast. After its license was revoked in February over a report that angered former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, independent media Voice of Democracy (VOD) announced that it will resume broadcasting from the United States in October.

VOD remains upholding its independent principles and continuing its mission in providing true and comprehensive news to Cambodian people, and contribute to enhancing freedom of press and freedom of expression in Cambodia.”

Released journalists. In Pakistan, news anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan was returned to his family over four months after he was initially arrested, released, and then went missing. He was arrested in May for allegedly “inciting violence” after protests erupted between the police and supporters of the country’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Pakistan Press Foundation welcomed the return of the journalist as it urged authorities to conduct a complete investigation into the disappearance of the journalist.

In Vietnam, two journalists were released in September, coinciding with the official visit of United States President Joe Biden. Independent journalist Mai Phan Loi was released 18 months before the end of his four-year sentence on alleged tax fraud charges. Another freelance journalist, Ngo Van Dung, was released after serving a five-year prison sentence and will remain on probation for the next two years. Meanwhile, RSF noted that 39 other journalists and press freedom defenders remain in detention.

In China, political commentator Zhou Yuanzhi has been released after being detained for 15 days. He was arrested following his critical remarks on the recent flooding disaster in the country.

RSF Press Freedom award laureate Lu Yuyu managed to escape China and was able to enter Canada. He was previously detained for his documentation of over 30,000 strikes and protests in China.

Resilient media voices. IFEX member Digital Rights Foundation hosted a gathering which recognized the role of the nationwide network of women journalists in building a “safe space where women turn to each other for support and solidarity in the absence of support mechanisms.” The activity identified the achievements of the campaign, the impact of its innovative programs such as the helpline and the launch of a feminist magazine, and pushback against misogyny and discrimination. As DRF Executive Director Nighat Dad said:

“As the world is increasingly becoming more restricted in terms of free expression, we have gathered together today to celebrate these women and their resilience and perseverance in working in Pakistan’s male-dominated media spaces.”

Digital legislation… or repression?

Nepal’s National Cyber Security Policy was approved by the Cabinet without conducting adequate consultation with stakeholders, who have expressed concern about some provisions related to the procurement of equipment for mass surveillance and the building of a government-owned intranet.

Taranath Dahal, chief executive of IFEX member Freedom Forum, is one of those who highlighted the dangers of having a national internet gateway patterned on the Chinese model.

“The internet is a global and decentralised platform. But the new provision could be used for data surveillance, which is not in keeping with a democratic system,” Dahal told the media.

Michael Caster, Asia Digital Programme Manager at ARTICLE 19, adds that aside from the risk of “arbitrarily restricting the free flow of information” the proposed gateway would advance “internet fragmentation.”

The parliament of Bangladesh passed the Cyber Security Act on 13 September amid criticisms that it is merely a renaming of the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA). The government’s Law Minister insists that DSA was “transformed and modernized” by reducing jail terms for disseminating illegal propaganda. But human rights groups point out that provisions giving broad powers to the police and authorities to conduct warrantless arrests and raids have been retained in the new law. Since its passage in 2018, the DSA has been weaponized targeting state critics, journalists, and opposition leaders. Around 7,000 people currently face various politically-motivated charges under the DSA.

India’s Digital Personal Data Protection law could face a legal challenge in the Supreme Court over some provisions that undermine Constitutional rights. IFEX member is monitoring the enforcement of the new rules but it has already flagged some issues such as the blocking powers of the Data Protection Board which is appointed by the government, the “serious dilution of the RTI Act”, and the failure to acknowledge that surveillance is a harm that can be done to citizens.

Originally published at on October 2, 2023.




IFEX is a nexus for free expression expertise contributed by over 100 member organisations, spanning 70 countries, and committed to transformative advocacy.